Now or Never!
Friday 18th October 2019: Politeia’s Director, Sheila Lawlor* explains that MPs should remember their authority is derived from the people and they should therefore support Boris Johnson’s proposed deal tomorrow.
Tomorrow MPs will be asked to support Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal agreed yesterday with the EU. Already the battle lines have been drawn with MPs combining and conspiring to block the deal, or delay Brexit with the aim of reversing it.
Boris Johnson’s deal is the first step towards honouring the vote for Brexit. It will restore constitutional sovereignty once the Brexit transition period ends and with it the power of people in this country to shape their laws, appoint their MPs, and yes, fire them via the polling booths if they do not pass muster. Our electorate is now determined that their mandate is honoured – having sent Theresa May a polite message in this year’s local council and European parliament polling booths. They want the referendum decision executed. They want to leave the EU.
Never since the full franchise was extended in the early 20th century has an electorate’s decision been so openly flouted. Ramsay McDonald’s Socialist Party won enough seats in 1923, he formed Labour’s first government with Liberal support. When Churchill was defeated after winning the war, Attlee set Britain on the most collectivist path this country had ever known. On both occasions, the losers not only acquiesced, but helped the Labour leader find his way. And in 1979, Margaret Thatcher won fair and square and the left, in her own party and the Labour benches, accepted the electorate’s decision, begrudgingly, but definitely.
Britain’s politics and freedoms depend on that see saw of the exercise of power and consent by MPs, recognising that the balance of power is held by the voters. Stanley Baldwin, Britain’s inter-war Prime Minister used to remind MPs they must bow to the constitutional authority of the people from whom they derived their power: It is the country that returns you, it is the country that will judge you. In Britain for centuries the executive and the legislature recognised that ultimately their authority came from the voters, not themselves.
For this reason, tomorrow MPs should support the Johnson deal. Rather than resorting to the chicaneries and malevolence displayed towards Brexit, the greatest challenge and opportunity for this country since World War 2, MPs, the parliamentarians who promised to execute it, should do so. For those who have quarrelled and rejected the people’s vote on 23 June 2016 now have a chance to wipe that slate clean. As I say in Now or Never: Countering the Coup Against Britain’s Democracy* the battle underway is not only a fight ‘to make Brexit happen as promised, but to preserve and restore the tattered institutions of government and parliament as the servant, not the master of the people’.
*For today’s reports see:
*Sheila Lawlor is Director of Politeia where she directs the social, economic, constitutional and legal programme, and is the author of , Now or Never: Countering the Coup Against Britain’s Democracy, published this week.
A historian by profession, her academic publications include Churchill and the Politics of War 1940-41 and she is currently completing a book on ‘Churchill and the Politics of Peace’ (working title).